Transferring the Dice Strategy to Poetry

I love the staff I work with!! They are terrific about sharing ideas and then adapting each other’s work and expanding on it for their own students needs.
Once again, they’ve come through.
You may recall we started with the post-it note strategy (here) for expanding narrative writing for the prompt. That was shared, and stretched and expanded to become the dice strategy for opinion/argument writing (here). Now we have another adaptation to support some of our students with applying poetic elements to their initial drafts of poems.
Often third graders are stymied when asked to draft inside the poetry unit. They can generate a list of ideas or topics for poems, but actually composing one is a bit of a trick. We frequently see these children resorting to bad rhyme schemes in desperation and then ending up with poems that don’t reflect the powerful language that they know how to use. Nor do these rhyming ditties reflect the great ideas the children generated before beginning the draft.
So Jen, a third grade teacher, took Sarah’s dice idea (she’s a second grade teacher) and made a poetry cube to help her struggling writers get some “fragments” of poems onto the page. Later, in revision, they can determine what stays and what goes and how to order and structure the poem.
Jen used the Ellison die cut machine and a die that cuts out a foldable cube (such a smart!!) to make a smaller cube for the older students.
Here’s what hers looked like:


Character Traits: Triangulating Data for Kids

Some of the second graders, working in their biography unit were having a tricky time with identifying character traits and supporting them with evidence.  They had a terrific list of character traits from which to select, but they were being a bit random in their selection.  And, like most second graders, once they made a choice, they felt completely committed to that trait.  We needed to show them how to validate their choice (or invalidate it, as the case may be.)

We thought about the adult data-team concept of “triangulating data” before drawing conclusions.  Hmmmm, the kids had a ton of post it notes already in their books.  Could the idea of triangulating data work for them too?

We quickly sketched a triangle on a large post it for them.  The trait went in the middle of the triangle.  A piece of evidence to support that trait went on each side of the triangle.  If you could quickly and easily find three pieces of evidence to support the trait, you’d probably chosen well. If you had difficulty finding three pieces of evidence, you’d likely identified behaviors that were “out of character” (another great concept for them to develop on the way to comprehending complex characters).


Elaborating Opinion Writing: One UP

After the work we did with the post it notes to support kiddos with elaborating narrative work, one of my teachers took and flipped the idea into Opinion Writing.

Sarah’s chart looked like this:


Then she took and made the whole thing into a die that the kids could “roll” when they were stuck.  It was amazing to watch some of the reluctant writers pour writing onto the page just by using the dice.

Here’s the die template. Opinion Dice045 Her children did the cut and paste to put it together during morning before-school time.  When writing workshop arrived, they were ready to go.


Book Review: Assessment in Perspective

Stenhouse has this lovely habit of releasing their books for FREE online shortly before they release the paper copy.  This year, one of the April releases is from Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan.  Assessment in Perspective is the book that I’ve been waiting for as a coach, as a literacy specialist and as a mentor to new teachers. assessment-in-perspective It pushes teachers to state clearly what they know to be true and what their research basis for that knowledge is.  Only then can a realistic and fruitful conversation about assessment begin.  We can stop arguing about what we “believe” and talk about what we know and how we know it.

The book is divided into some clear-cut sections that cut right through the jargon of assessment.  It defines terms such as formative, summative, formal and informal assessments in terms that make sense to classroom teachers and provides them with real-life examples of each.  Assessment in Perspective gives teachers examples of data walls, charts, graphs and other displays that are useful and helpful.  With photos and sketches that show these displays in action, the no-nonsense text plows right through what-to-use-when.

Landrigan and Mulligan name names too.  They list the assessments they use, like and suffer through.  They explain clearly what information is available from each and what is lacking.  They chart a path through triangulating data to overcome the weaknesses and ensure a clear, sharp picture of each learner.

This is a book that I can’t wait to share with my data teams and my classroom teachers.  It should make the work of RTI and grade level data teams so much more manageable.  It speaks English, even though the topic is data-speak. If you head on over to Stenhouse, you can read the book online (before it even comes out!).

Determining Importance in Our Biography Study

I spotted some great thinking in the Choice Literacy newsletter last week.  What drew my eye was that it involved one of my favorite books, The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown.  You can check it out here … but the gist of it was that students could use the frame from Brown’s book to write a summary (sort of) about something or someone.

So, the wheels got turning and I asked a second grade team in one of my schools if we could try this with the second graders who are in the midst of their biography unit.  We did some work with those kids earlier — you can see it here.  They graciously allowed me to use their kids as a lab for building on Suzy Kaback’s thinking.


Here’s what we did:

1.  We read The Important Book (we found this as a slide share so we could easily put it up on the SmartBoard and mark it up as we worked with the kids)  We took the opportunity to analyze what Margaret Wise Brown actually DID as a writer — both the determining importance work and the writer’s craft work.  Some things we noticed:

  • She used similes 
  • She use “not” statements to make her thoughts more clear
  • She begins and ends with the most important fact she has
  • She describes
  • She adds in other interesting facts
  • She sometimes uses two things that are opposite in her paragraph
  • She uses “It is true that…” when there is something else that could be the most important thing, but its not the one she chose

2. The children gathered facts about a person under study in the biography study.  They pulled from different texts (CCSS!!) and gathered post-it notes together with facts and information.

3.  By moving the post it notes around, they “tried out” what might be the most important thing about that person.  This allowed for revision without re-writing.

4.  Finally, they wrote a paragraph using Margaret Wise Brown’s frame to talk about the important facts about that person.

Orton Sight Words as a Strategy

I love it when my Orton Gillingham training can sneak its way into my Reading Workshop and become a strategy for young learners to engage.  And that’s what happened today with Charlie.

Charlie is working hard on mastering some first grade sight words.  He’s done sight word games, drills, writing practice, all kinds of things.  His teacher has constructed a massive amount of practice to support him in gaining this important foothold in text.  And yet, there are a couple of words that still seem to elude my friend Charlie.  He will do a card drill and nail the rest of the words, and draw a total blank on these few tricky words.

So, today, Charlie and I modeled some skill by strategy work for his teacher.  She sat with her teaching board in front of her, tracking my instruction, while Charlie and I worked on a strategy for recalling tricky sight words.

“One way readers remember tricky sight words is by letting their muscles help remember”, was my skill by strategy statement.


1.  Look at the word.

2.  Spell the word aloud and tap on your arm as you say each letter. (yep, good old Orton arm spelling, here)

3.  Say the word and slide your hand down your arm.

practice a few times with your eyes looking straight at the word.  Then practice with your eyes closed and just read the word off of the movie screen in your mind.

What Charlie discovered (like so many young readers before him) was that once he had allowed his muscles to aid in remembering, they could also aid in finding the word in his brain.  Upon coming to a word previously stored this way, Charlie could arm tap the word (without being able to remember what the word was — just the letters).  When he moved to the arm slide, it often fell right out of his mouth — the muscles really did help him remember.


Explicitness, Stickiness and Skill by Strategy

One of my schools has been doing quite a bit of work this year on making our instruction more explicit and more sticky.  We’ve done labs, professional learning sessions, workshops and more.  Early in the year, we started using  Skill by Strategy statements with step by step directions to help with that work.  You can check our some of our previous work in these areas here, here and here.

Now, we’ve gone and made these two pieces of media for ourselves. (can you fairly call something “media” if you draw it by hand?”.

Stickiness-Skill Strat 043 Explicit-Skill Strat 044

Biographies: Learning about People

One of my second grade teachers worked with me in a study of biographies.  In addition to the mini-lesson plan provided by the district, she and I worked out the strategies that we might need to teach to some of the children to equip them to navigate biographies as a genre.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • how to organize information on a timeline
  • how to determine importance in reviewing facts about a biography subject
  • how to gather facts efficiently
  • how to organize information OTHER than in chronological order
  • how to interpret photos
  • how to integrate photos and captions and maps into the text as you read
  • how to compare and contrast different sources of information about a person

Whew!  That seemed to be quite a bit to tackle in our little biography study with these little people.

We began by sorting out those skill areas that everyone in the classroom was highly likely to need.  These would be our whole class mini lessons.  The remainder of the skill areas would stand as strategy group lessons.  We weren’t ready to start listing students for each of these strategy group areas.  We hadn’t read biographies with them sufficiently to feel as though we knew them as readers yet.

As we begin our mini-lessons, we’ll be observing carefully to start assigning children to strategy groups.  We also decided that we’d attempt to have a research conference with each child during the immersion phase of the unit to gather information about how they approached the genre and diagnose what they might need to be more successful biography readers.

Finally, we started generating mini-lessons and strategy group lessons.  It was a crazy-lot of work, but it was really good work.  We’ve built a solid unit of study for these young readers.  It feels good.